I recently engaged in dialogue with someone in Facebook, and we discussed social welfare policy. I have decided to stop engaging with this person. One thing I learned while earning a doctorate is that there just isn’t enough time to engage with everyone and do everything you want to do. So, when we get into discussions and debates, it’s important to only do so when there is good faith, and both sides are interested in comparing information and seeking truth. There are very many people who are ignorant, or, frankly, no very bright, and we should limit the amount of time we devote to engaging such persons in debate if they are not open to fair inquiry. The world is full of bad information, and there is precious little time to waste consuming and digesting the dreck.
On the other hand, as an activist and community organizer, and one who sometimes teaches social work students about advocacy and organizing, I am conscious that one of the most important things we can do is share our opinions and engage with fellow citizens in discussions of matters of public importance. We should look for opportunities to give people good information. We should try to build within the public accurate perceptions of problems and proposed solutions, and also we should motivate people to join us in regularly communicating with our elected and appointed government representatives and servants, telling them what we want, and sharing our opinions with them. This is part of what everyone ought to do in a democracy such as ours, and this is especially important for social workers, who have an ethical duty to strive to secure efficient and effective services for people who need them.
So, sometimes I am drawn into public discussions of policy in Facebook or comment forums in newspaper or magazine or NPR articles.
Here I’ll give examples from the dialogue I was recently in, showing the sort of conversation that led me to just give up on this person.
The whole conversation was sparked by comments in response to a video of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates suggesting that taxes on the wealthy could be increased. A link to the film is below.
I’ve put my interlocutor’s posts in a brown, serif font. I have edited my own posts in three places to correct grammar, and in one place to add information I had intended to include. I have not edited other persons' posts.
On the payroll tax - the payroll tax is not really a tax in the sense that they discuss it. It is a requirement that people set aside their own money now so that they can retire in the future. Taxes are money you pay for a service provided by someone else or to pay for a service given to someone else.
It seems to me that you are describing Social Security as if it were a public forced savings account using individualized retirement savings accounts, but it is a public Social Security retirement scheme, and there are not individualized accounts in which people keep their own money. I think an interesting alternative to the current Social Security system would be a public pension scheme (a modification of the current Social Security Old Age benefit) that returned to all Americans over 65 a guaranteed minimum income of, say, 140% of the poverty rate for single individuals. The benefits would be taxed at the same rate as other income. This would have an advantage over the current system in that it would entirely eliminate poverty among the elderly in the United States (currently the elderly have a poverty rate around 9-10%). This universal public retirement benefit would be partnered with a forced savings account, where Americans would be forced to put aside about 10% of their income into a private retirement account. Upon retirement, everyone would have the flat 140% of poverty benefit and everyone would have a personal retirement account to supplement this.
The only ones paying a payroll tax are the rich. They do not receive the same money they put in. Instead much of it is removed and transferred to those that the Democrats claim are paying too much payroll tax.
This passage uses the terms “rich” and “poor” in ways I am not familiar with. Nearly all workers pay a payroll tax, and their employers also pay payroll taxes, which could be given as salary, and so stand as hidden payroll taxes that further reduce worker salaries. There is a few percent for Medicare, a few percent for Unemployment Insurance, and several percent for OASDI (Social Security). Social Security, remember, isn’t just a retirement pension scheme, it’s also a form of insurance that gives benefits to persons who become disabled and unable to work, and it also provides benefits to survivors (dependents) of workers who die. Through the Earned Income Tax Credit, the progressive tax rates, and various deductions and credits, most married couples with two dependent children jointly earning under $35,000 will effectively have more refunds and benefits given back to them than they paid in taxes. However, their tax refunds and credits do not come from the Social Security Trust Fund, so I do not see how it is technically correct to say that they do not pay payroll withholding.
Further, do you have any actuarial accounts or economic analysis of lifetime payments into Social Security and lifetime benefits received? I have read studies of this, and the conclusion is that persons who live longer tend to receive more in benefits than they pay into the system, whereas persons who die before retiring or within eight or nine years of retiring end up paying more than they personally receive in benefits (but everyone gets benefits in the sense that we don’t live in a society in which impoverished seniors must live in county workhouses as they did before Social Security). In other words, Social Security may give a net transfer of wealth from the short-lived (mostly poor and minority taxpayers) to the longer-lived (mostly wealthy and healthy professional class).
The poor are already subsidized by social security. It's nothing but a welfare program that democrats want to expand, and the poor shouldn't be complaining about it since they don't pay enough already.
If you have any studies that show you are correct, good studies that aren’t a set of stupid assumptions and made-up numbers by some clown who is a Koch brother hack working out of George Mason or the Cato Institute, I’d be interested in learning more, and I am open to being persuaded that I’m wrong. There are good conservative economists, and even libertarian economists, who deal with reality and make logical arguments. The University of Chicago has many. In fact, most mainstream academic economics journals, and the departments of most universities, especially those in conservative areas of the country such as the Mountain West and the South will have many reputable and intellectually honest economists who take conservative positions, and surely one of these persons has published in some reputable peer-reviewed journal or a good scholarly press some facts supporting this idea that Social Security is “nothing but a welfare program” in which the poor “don’t pay enough already.” Robert J. Lampman did the main work on the income transfer effects of Social Security and public spending, back in the 1970s, but I think his findings would still hold true. Social Security is mainly a transfer of wealth from middle-income persons to other middle-income persons, and has a trivial progressive transfer effect of paying out more to the poor and taking more from the wealthy. I think mainly, it’s a transfer from those doomed to die before their 75th birthdays to those who will live past 80 years of age. Check out life expectancy tables by ethnicity or class and see if you still think Social Security is a big redistributive policy.
If Democrats would stop preventing social security from being privatized, the poor could pay less and receive even more than they do now.
For a brief time in the late 1990s before the tech stock bubble burst, I think there were some studies showing that private savings accounts would return a better yield than Social Security. However, I haven’t seen any studies since 2000, and certainly none since 2008-2009 financial crisis, making such claims. It’s important to include the insurance function of Social Security to make fair comparisons between private retirement savings schemes and Social Security. When scholars (good scholars, not the intellectual prostitutes working for the Koch brothers) compare private and public schemes and include the disability insurance and survivor benefit functions of Social Security, I believe the comparisons are close, and private schemes (which have fees and profit-taking associated with them far higher than the administrative costs of public systems such as Social Security) do not fare especially well.
I can give an illustrative example. I am a state employee paying into a state employee pension fund, and therefore exempt from paying Social Security taxes. I started working for the State of Illinois in 2000, and chose to have a “self-managed account,” which is essentially a privatized account. I recently received an estimate from this plan of what I can look forward to if I continue working for the State of Illinois and retire in 22 years at age 65: about $1,000 per month. But that isn’t adjusted for inflation, and if I do adjust for inflation, that will probably have the purchasing power of about $400 in 2011 dollars. Is it my fault for choosing unwisely in how to invest my self-managed account? No, the two funds I have been putting money into are among the top five performers out of the approximately 40 funds I could have invested in. My colleagues who get a defined benefit will receive probably eight times more income than I will if they retire when I do (assuming I continue working for the State of Illinois, which obviously I cannot). The public (state-managed) pension plan is far, far better than the “privatized” self-managed plan. Even if the state cuts public pensions by half, even if they cut public pensions by 75%, still the defined benefits for state employees will be at least twice better than what I get with my privatized retirement investment plan.
Do you really believe the poor would get better pensions if we privatized Social Security? I know there is a theory that says this is true, but can you give me ANY empirical evidence to support this conjecture?
As to income taxes in general, I agree that in principle, the rich should pay more than the poor, since a certain amount of money is required for survival. However, right now, the poor are charged a negative tax, so they receive money instead of having to pay it.
Of course they do. If the principle is that people need to consume at some lower threshold or floor of consumption, then those who earn less than this threshold will need to be subsidized so that they can consume at levels that keep them alive and healthy and allow them to participate in society. However, I think you are only considering federal income taxes. If you include state and local taxes on property and sales, is it still the fact that so many of the poor receive a net benefit when we total their taxes and benefits? At what level of income should a family be expected to start having a net decrease in consumption due to taxes, and no longer receive a net increase in consumption due to benefits? Would it be a $25,000 for a family of four? Perhaps $30,000 for a family of four? Do you think $15,000 for a family of four? Currently, I think that almost every household with income over $35,000 is paying out more in taxes than they receive in benefits (although they are due some Social Security benefits that they may collect later, but let’s ignore that now). That means there are many retired people collecting pensions and Social Security whose Social Security pensions and Medicare benefits are larger than their tax obligations, even if they live in states with high property taxes. Are you suggesting that we need to raise taxes on seniors who live on modest fixed incomes slightly above the poverty line? Really? Are you concerned that the employees in the service economy who earn $10 per hour, or the agricultural workers, or the meat processing plant workers, who are making less than $25,000 per year to support their spouses and children need to pay more in taxes? And this is because you think the persons earning over $250,000, who pay between 18% and 23% in federal taxes on income, capital gains, and so forth, shouldn’t be asked to pay $23% to 29% instead? Really?
I don't think that Gates or Buffet receive money from the government. There is one thing that people don't understand about the rich. They are necessary even when they are totally worthless individuals. Newly developed products normally come out first as very high priced products designed for the rich. An example is flat screen TV's which originally were over $23,000. Only the rich could afford it. This enabled the TV companies to bring out a product slowly in small quantities and make very large profits with which to fund more R&D to bring the price down and quality up. In addition, the rich are investing their money, which again provides the resources for the same development. Without the rich, companies would be faced with having to come out with new products in very large quantities in order to have a low price. They would have to borrow the money for this, which increases their risk and cost and in the long run results in no new products. Hence the reason why no purely socialist society has ever developed any new commercial product for the public good. Challenge to any one doubting, name one. Of course, mixed economies have done so, but it is the private sector that does the work, and there are rich people in those mixed economies.
There is no logical equivalence between the argument that persons with high incomes should pay higher taxes and the argument that we should so highly tax the wealthy that we no longer have a wealthy or affluent class. No one is making the argument that we should eliminate wealth, or constrain wealth so that no one is allowed to keep any fortune over $5 million in value, or anything like that. This is an argument against a straw man who doesn’t exist. Suggesting that households with incomes over $1 million per year ought to pay, on average, $350,000 in taxes rather than, on average, $210,000 (the IRS has reports on how much the wealthy pay in taxes, and these numbers I’m using are reasonable approximations), is not an argument that the government should seize all industry and eliminate free market forces and competition. Of course I agree with you that we need the wealthy, and they play a role in our society, and we need promises of wealth to motivate many people. There is no argument here. It would be better if people addressed their arguments to the actual points people are making, instead of inventing idiotic arguments no one is making so that they can easily defeat them.
Gates and Buffet are complaining that they have an advantage with the low capital gains tax, which may be true, but this is the engine that drives new development. If you are spending money to increase production, quality, bring out new products or reduce prices, why should you pay any tax on it at all? This benefits everyone. So, while it may seem unfair, it still results in a better quality of life for everyone than if the rich spent their money on taxes instead of investment.
This is an interesting point. Could we craft a capital gains tax that was lower for capital gains that resulted from innovation, increased production, higher quality, and new development? Right now a very large portion of capital gains result from speculative paper shuffling and financial dealing that actually harms productivity and diverts resources away from productive sectors of the economy. I’d be happy to see a 5% capital gains tax on those capital gains that can be honestly attributed to innovation and improved efficiencies, and slapping a 50% capital gains tax on speculative and non-productive or destructive dealing and financial games.
I will not agree that we are always better off when people privately invest their money rather than paying it in taxes. Such a statement is true or false, depending upon how money is invested or how it is used by a government. Private speculative investment in credit default swaps, speculative bubbles in housing or commercial real estate, mortgage derivatives, precious metal investing, the production of gizmos that guzzle fossil fuels or spew Mercury and Lead and Cadmium into the atmosphere, etc. is less productive than taxes that are transferred to medical research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, or research funded by the Department of Energy and Department of Transportation for the development of road surfacing that collects solar energy, or investment in innovative techniques to get the best teachers into the public schools with the students who need the most help, or studies and foreign aid that might lead to the eradication of mosquitoes, malaria, or measles.
Some people would rather live in squalor than see someone else get more than they do. It’s not as noble a position as it seems.
It seems to me that you are accusing people who disagree with you of preferring to force us into a society where people live in squalor because they are envious of wealthy people. I think mainstream liberal Democrats and Greens and Democratic Socialists in North America tend to look at places like Denmark and Norway and Sweden, or perhaps the Netherlands and Germany and France, as examples of the sort of higher taxes and higher services they would like. Although, as such people are Americans, and have faith in America, they tend to think that we could do it better, and smarter, than our European cousins do. Have you been to Western Europe or Scandinavia? I would not describe living standards there as “squalor.” I have, however, done fieldwork in poor neighborhoods of Saint Louis, and East Saint Louis, and the rural areas of Mississippi County, Missouri. I have seen squalor there.
I think there is nobility in the conservative arguments about the importance of individual responsibility, and the ideal of fiscal responsibility and sustainability. There is also nobility in seeking a society in which chances are equalized, which will require, I think, some redistribution from those who have many chances to those whose chances are narrowed and limited by poverty. I don’t think it’s productive to claim that one side is ignoble or motivated by base desires (I don’t think Republicans are all greedy Ayn Rand-worshipping nutcases). Actually, American radicals and conservatives have a vast common ground when it comes to respect for human rights and civil rights, and the two sides are looking for the best means to achieve an affluent and just society where everyone’s chances are bright and happiness is maximized. It’s mostly a matter of disagreement about how to achieve this world that embodies our shared common American ideals that gets us into disagreements.
[A third participant, on old friend of mine named “Billy” posted]
Eric. you sound very well versed and i'm not challenging any of your points.However, it would be interesting to know if there are any studies on say the poor that collect social benefits of all kinds as well as deal drugs? Or perhaps the drain on america for the social benefits recieved by illegal aliens? Or the fraud and abuse done by the poor (both american and non american alike) of social benefits?If you combined all these things and redisritubed THAT wealth back to the "legally poor" or the poor elderly, how much would that raise their stadard of living?..My point is I suppose untill the government has got a handle on the things that are wrong with its programs, it's a tough sell to the american people to prove to them they can do anything correctly.
Billy raised some very important questions.
First, what about drug use and drug selling by welfare recipients?
When people have done qualitative studies of how very low-income people who receive welfare live, they do find that, as a matter of survival, most turn to undocumented cash income activities or informal in-kind support from friends, neighbors, and relatives. Drug-dealing turns up as a behavior some use, but it's not very common. The best work on the lives of welfare recipients has been done by scholars such as Mark Rank, Lillian Rubin, Sandra Morgen, Sharon Hays, and of course, the classic work is "Making Ends Meet" by Kathryn Edin and Laura Stein (1997). Since most persons receiving TANF, Medicaid, SNAP, and housing subsidies are children, or elderly, or disabled, and studies of the able-bodied working-aged mother show fewer than 5% engage in illicit drug traffic, I'd say an estimate of 1-2% for the total welfare-using population that sell drugs is likely to be correct. Sexual services is the illegal income supplement more of those persons receiving welfare use, but even that isn't very common.
Billy's question about the drain on the economy from undocumented workers deserves an answer.
I've read a few studies of this, and those of course referred to other studies, but I haven't seen anything trying to estimate this since 2008, before the financial crash, so things may be different in the Great Recession. Anyway, there is no consensus about whether undocumented people give our economy a net gain or a net drain. The only consensus is that the net effect is small. The persons who suffer the most from undocumented workers are low-skilled native-born Americans who suffer lower wages and fewer job opportunities because of competition. Taxes paid by undocumented aliens and workers probably cover more than our government spends on providing services to them, especially if we exclude the costs of border security and deportation proceedings as "services" to them.
As a person who thinks the ideal population of the USA is about 100 million (rather than the 450 million we will have probably surpassed by the time I die) I'm all for securing the borders and reducing immigration. A higher priority than border security, though, is swiftly processing claims and filings and petitions by people here in a legal limbo, where they are quasi-legal residents. Immigration reform is needed, so we can clear all these cases arising from the stupid policies we've had up until now.
Billy's question about fraud:
My own estimate, as a social worker who reads policy journals and does some quantitative analysis of welfare policy as part of my job, is that about 2% to 4% of the people getting SSI or Unemployment or TANF or SNAP are just fraudsters who are ripping off the system. There is another segment that deserves or is entitled to benefits, but gets significantly more than they are supposed to get because they are not entirely honest, and that group is probably another 5% or more. You probably have higher rates of corruption, graft, fraud, and dishonesty among banking and insurance CEOs. I expect levels of corruption among politicians are probably at a similar level to what you find with welfare recipients. Basically, my take on this is that any system that works with humanity as the raw material is going to have to deal with about 5% who have no ethical standards, no empathy, and who just want to rip you off.
[a fourth participant named “Christopher” responds to something someone else wrote about the Mondragon Co-op in Basque Spain]
I am not doubting that this commune was successful, nor am I challenging that it became the largest appliance manufacturer in Spain. I know that you are just showing how a socialistic idea can work, but the challenge is not whether something can be made to work, it is innovation. Starting in a small community and building your own stuff, building your own schools, and so on, does not fuel the kind of growth that free-market competition does. Socialistic programs do not foster the environment to find a cure for a major disease, or invent an automobile, etc. Further, socialistic systems collapse under their own weight eventualy, either by bad leaders taking power or by someone asking the question "why can't I have a refridgerator with an icemaker like they have over there?" The Soviets are a great example of a large scale system like the one you are talking about, but they collapsed when they needed to keep up with technological advances in the world, in that case it was defense spending, and they were the ones who started the arms race in the first place. Free market competition provides the most robust environment for mankind to innovate and I have never seen a shread of proof to discount that fact.
Christopher, wouldn't you agree that there are gradations of socialism? If socialism is state (public) ownership of the means of production, then we can have the public owning a tiny bit of the means of production, or a modest amount, or quite a large amount, or entirely everything. I think socialism in which *everything* is public and belongs to the state is entirely unworkable for political reasons, more than economic ones. A working system of social organization needs to let people stand outside the system and criticize it. A system where *everything* "belongs to the people" can't leave room for anyone or anything to be outside the system and criticize it, because if you already are supposedly "in power" and already "own" the means of production, then how can you be against anything?
But, what I don't know is where the tipping point is. Clearly the state can own some of the means of production with no harm done, and clearly the state can own too much of the means of production, and the system becomes unsustainable and stagnant. I suspect the workable and sustainable range of public ownership in a society is quite wide, perhaps 20% to 70%. Perhaps if a person thinks 20% is as far as we should go with public ownership in the economy, then anyone who thinks 30% is acceptable might look like a socialist to them. I think the optimal range is somewhere between 45% and 55% (a significant bit more than what we have in the United States now, but not really in my opinion radically different). I consider myself a moderate, but in America where so many people now seem to think that the government should be 20%-30% of the economy, I probably look like a radical socialist to many.
I'm suggesting it all depends on where you *think* the optimal level of public control in the economy ought to be. I don't think anyone *knows* the answer, and I suspect the answer varies depending upon historical conditions, stage of economic development, sophistication of the electorate, level of democratic participation in the society, and so forth.
In essence, I hear Gates and Buffet saying, "the public is extracting and then spending and investing about 40% of the economy now, and it would be okay if the public extracted and spent 42% or 44%, and took that extra 2% or 4% from the top 10% of the wealthiest in our population, who already earn or control about 60% of the economy and the wealth."
I sometimes feel myself vexed when engaged in dialogue about this and someone starts warning of the dangers of socialism and describes the command economies of the Soviet Union (which, incidentally, did innovate and organize a massive industrialization between 1925 and 1940, although it used unethical and to my mind unacceptable means to accomplish this). Intelligent people already know that a system like the Soviet Union where the state controls 90% of the economy or more doesn't yet yield sustainable prosperity, and no sensible person is advocating for that. What people are advocating is something like a shift from 39% to 45%, which seems to some of us to be about right for an older society that has reached a certain level of economic and social development.
To my mind it is as if any time a Libertarian or current-era Republican claimed to me that we would all be far more happy and prosperous if we disbanded many social programs and cut back the public sector to 30% of the economy rather than the 39% or 40% we're at now I responded with a stern warning about how if we allow private property rights and capitalism to run unregulated as has been attempted in the past we'll move back to slavery, which was extremely profitable and efficient (for slave-owners). No, of course conservatives aren't arguing in favor of that (I think), so I don't bring it up. And yet, conservatives continue to warn about the dangers of socialism, and by "socialism" they mean something like Stalinist Russia.
***** my debate opponent responds ******
[I had been describing the work of Robert J.
I don’t know too much about Bob, but I see he is very popular with the poverty institute. That tells me he was a liberal with an agenda. Unfortunately liberals have a history of manipulating data to come to a foregone conclusion. Too many liberals avoid the truth like Dracula avoids sunlight. This has been most obvious with the embarrassing revelations coming out of the global warming data manipulation and publication scandal. Just as you won’t accept right wing studies, I see no reason to accept one from the left. In any case, much has changed since 1970, including demographics, social security fees and payout. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Bob’s study is correct. The argument seems to be that the poor don’t live very long, so they could actually pay more than their share in spite of the fact that the rich pay more into social security. Who was it that designed, enlarged, and defended this system against all attempts to improve it? Liberals.
Let’s look at a conservative solution to the social security problem. I’m glad to see that you find this system interesting. You must not be a very good liberal, and if you’re not careful, your formal liberal friends will turn on you. Under a typical conservative plan, an individual might supply his own funds or in some cases be subsidized to buy a retirement fund from a variety of investment companies. Those companies being the greedy capitalist pigs they are, would run an actuarial analysis on the poor in order to maximize their profits. Having no outside agenda, this would not be an analysis based upon 1970 data, but would be an accurate analysis because it is to their benefit to be accurate. The analysis would be conntinuously upgraded by experience and include such factors as race, income, weight, lifestyle etc. They then would supposedly determine that the poor live shorter lives than their rich counterparts. The poor would become highly sought after customers. Companies would compete for their share of the market by decreasing the costs to the poor and increasing benefits. The poor would thereby end up with their fair share. The monies being saved would be invested so that when time comes to retire, the recipient would receive a much greater amount than with the present system. This has been proven by a section of Texas that was not required to join in the social security system when the system started. These people eventually received 5 times what their social security compatriots received. In addition, the trillions of dollars of funds invested by all would significantly increase the effective savings rate increasing the growth rate of the overall economy. This would make us more competitive, increase jobs, and increase the value of the dollar reducing the amount the poor have to pay for gas to get their food stamps. The best thing about this plan is that it can no longer be called a “tax” by Democrats and used as an excuse to raise income taxes on the rich. By the way, I didn’t say the poor don’t pay any payroll withholding. I said it’s not a tax. Let’s just agree to use liberal terminology and call it an “investment”.
Compare the conservative plan to the present socialist solution. The payments and services have nothing to do with your personal situation or life expectancy, but instead are determined by the amount of political power the group you belong to has. Payout will continuously increase because votes can be bought and the price to pay can be put off. The fund was inevitably hijacked by Lyndon Johnson and his democrat friends, and we have nothing left but an IOU to ourselves. It and all the other giant pyramid schemes the democrats have created are all going bankrupt which means that no one will receive anything if something doesn’t change. The conservative plan is sustainable and the socialist plan is not. It is clear that liberals are more concerned about feeling good about themselves than actually coming up with solutions. They want the good feelings and moral superiority that goes with it without having to make much sacrifice. Rich liberals outnumber rich conservatives. There is another solution to this problem. All the rich liberals like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and any other guilt ridden liberals should get together and agree to give enough money to bring the poor up to the average income level. Leave the rest of us out of it.
“ Of course they do. If the principle is that people need to consume at some lower threshold or floor of consumption, then those who earn less than this threshold will need to be subsidized so that they can consume at levels that keep them alive and healthy and allow them to participate in society.”
– Not so. Some of them are just plain lazy. They don’t need to be subsidized, they need to be encouraged to get jobs and training. If the physically able had to support themselves most would rise to the occasion. They might even go to school or learn a valuable trade. Charitable organizations and individuals could handle the rest. liberals are doing a disservice to these people. They have destroyed the black family with the welfare system. And yet they continue to promote more of it in spite of all the obvious evidence. Woe be it to the poor slob that is the target of a liberal’s compassion. I recently heard that well known liberal Bob Beckel volunteer that the democrats had unfortunately created a permanent underclass of dependency with their programs. He then went on immediately to criticize conservatives for not supporting more of the same types of social programs. Wake up!
“Are you suggesting that we need to raise taxes on seniors who live on modest fixed incomes slightly above the poverty line? Really? “
– I don’t believe in raising taxes on anyone, liberals do.
“There is no logical equivalence between the argument that persons with high incomes should pay higher taxes and the argument that we should so highly tax the wealthy that we no longer have a wealthy or affluent class. No one is making the argument that we should eliminate wealth”
– maybe you aren’t but that is the end game of many of the liberals surrounding Barack –I’ve-been-to-all-fifty-seven-states Obama, (BIBTAFSSO), who are outright communists. You need to take a hard look at some of your liberal friends.
“This is an interesting point. Could we craft a capital gains tax that was lower for capital gains that resulted from innovation, increased production, higher quality, and new development? Right now a very large portion of capital gains result from speculative paper shuffling and financial dealing that actually harms productivity and diverts resources away from productive sectors of the economy. I’d be happy to see a 5% capital gains tax on those capital gains that can be honestly attributed to innovation and improved efficiencies, and slapping a 50% capital gains tax on speculative and non-productive or destructive dealing and financial games.”
– We agree in principle, but 50& is too high. Keep in mind, this is not your money to spend. People have property rights and you cannot just take them away anymore than you can take their lives.
“I will not agree that we are always better off when people privately invest their money rather than paying it in taxes. Such a statement is true or false, depending upon how money is invested or how it is used by a government. Private speculative investment in credit default swaps, speculative bubbles in housing or commercial real estate, mortgage derivatives, precious metal investing, the production of gizmos that guzzle fossil fuels or spew Mercury and Lead and Cadmium into the atmosphere, etc. is less productive than taxes that are transferred to medical research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, or research funded by the Department of Energy and Department of Transportation for the development of road surfacing that collects solar energy, or investment in innovative techniques to get the best teachers into the public schools with the students who need the most help, or studies and foreign aid that might lead to the eradication of mosquitoes, malaria, or measles.”
– Not much of the federal money is spent on these things. How much of this is just pork projects, turtle research, sex research etc. Anything some liberal professor can come up with. In most cases, private concerns can do research better, and it won’t be wasted.
“It seems to me that you are accusing people who disagree with you of preferring to force us into a society wher...e people live in squalor because they are envious of wealthy people. I think mainstream liberal Democrats and Greens and Democratic Socialists in North America tend to look at places like Denmark and Norway and Sweden, or perhaps the Netherlands and Germany and France, as examples of the sort of higher taxes and higher services they would like. Although, as such people are Americans, and have faith in America, they tend to think that we could do it better, and smarter, than our European cousins do. Have you been to Western Europe or Scandinavia? I would not describe living standards there as “squalor.” I have, however, done fieldwork in poor neighborhoods of Saint Louis, and East Saint Louis, and the rural areas of Mississippi County, Missouri. I have seen squalor there.”
– I have been to Denmark. All of these countries have not had to deal with the demographic issues we have and they are still going bankrupt. The car tax in Denmark causes new cars to be 350% of the real cost. Gas is more than twice as high as here. They tell me it is hard to get well educated people to do development work because the average Joe makes almost as much money and doesn’t have to work as hard. So, fewer people are taking the hard courses, like science and engineering. They have recently discovered that their unemployment compensation coverage of 5 years resulted in most laid off people waiting 5 years to get a job. They have reduced it. Their system is going down the tubes too, and since liberals don’t believe in having kids, they are having to import workers. Soon some enterprising politician will discover that by playing the race card and dividing people into groups pitted against each other, they can destroy the capitalist system entirely, which is the whole purpose.
Now we have BIBTAFSSO on tape as having said that although he realizes that cutting the capital gains tax would help the economy, he won’t do it because it wouldn’t be fair. What did I say about some people preferring to live in squalor?
“I think there is nobility in the conservative arguments about the importance of individual responsibility, and the ideal of fiscal responsibility and sustainability. There is also nobility in seeking a society in which chances are equalized, which will require, I think, some redistribution from those who have many chances to those whose chances are narrowed and limited by poverty. I don’t think it’s productive to claim that one side is ignoble or motivated by base desires (I don’t think Republicans are all greedy Ayn Rand-worshipping nutcases). Actually, American radicals and conservatives have a vast common ground when it comes to respect for human rights and civil rights, and the two sides are looking for the best means to achieve an affluent and just society where everyone’s chances are bright and happiness is maximized. It’s mostly a matter of disagreement about how to achieve this world that embodies our shared common American ideals that gets us into disagreements.”
– in some cases but not most. I believe most radical liberals want power. Again, look at those people surrounding BIBTAFSSO. The union bosses give speeches about power and talk about the persuasion of power. They shut down a democratically elected government in Wisconsin for weeks. They don’t believe in the original American ideals but instead in those principles that thousands of Americans have died fighting against.
*** my last response ****
Here, is my summary of where things are at:
You write, I don’t know too much about Bob, but I see he is very popular with the poverty institute. That tells me he was a liberal with an agenda. Unfortunately liberals have a history of manipulating data to come to a foregone conclusion. Too many liberals avoid the truth like Dracula avoids sunlight.
You are making a logical equivalence between working at the Poverty Institute and being a “liberal with an agenda” and you go on to make generalizations about “too many” liberals avoiding the truth. I made a similar point about the scholars at the Cato Institute and the economics department of George Mason University being full of people who are not real scholars, but are instead people who will say anything to satisfy their ideological paymasters (Koch Brothers and others like them). I agree wholeheartedly that there are ideologically-driven people putting forth half-truths and bad data or illogical argument in support of positions that would be far less supportable if we used better (less biased) facts and more honest argument.
I of course do not agree that it’s fair to say “liberals have a history of manipulating data” although I would agree with a statement such as, “humans have a history of manipulating data” and I suggest it applies equally well to humans of conservative and liberal political proclivities. That is why we teach critical thinking in schools, so people won’t get away with it when they try to fool the people.
You write about, “the embarrassing revelations coming out of the global warming data manipulation and publication scandal.” I’ve looked into that, and I hope you will as well, because when you are familiar with the facts of the case, it’s not really so embarrassing, and doesn’t undermine any of the studies from the Climatic Research Unit. Try http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/25/climate-science-vindicated-for-umpteenth-time/ and also go to a primary source and read the House of Commons Report (in pdf) at http://climateprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/HC387-IUEAFinalEmbargoedv21.pdf
You wrote: “Just as you won’t accept right wing studies, I see no reason to accept one from the left.”
Such a position will end all debate, won’t it? Fine with me. But, I do accept studies and reports from the right wing. I’m glad to read them. I regularly do so. I’m a member of some very right-wing and libertarian groups, and contribute my membership dues so that I can continue reading materials from this spectrum of the political debate. I sometimes find such reports refreshing, provocative, and illuminating. On rare occasions, I’ll even find something persuasive and change my mind about something, and there are issues or policies in which I think conservatives or Libertarians have excellent ideas, sometimes even better ideas than liberals or radicals. So, I hope I’ve cleared up this misconception about my refusing to read right wing studies. I simply ask for good studies, or good information, and warn that there are academic departments and think tanks that would be on the fringe of policy debate and economic or social sciences if it were not for the very wealthy funders and the right-wing media outlets and political leaders who use their shoddy work. The left has a few of these as well, but the problem is far greater for conservatives who have intellectual integrity than it is for the liberals and radicals who fret over their less intellectually honest allies.
I hope you will accept or at least consider the work of scholars who happen to have liberal or radical values, at least when their data are sound and their arguments logical.
You describe the “Galveston Plan” and describe how a privatized Social Security System would work. You should read the report on this experiment. It's at http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v62n1/v62n1p47.pdf and when you read the report, remember that the report was written in 1998-1999, and that was before the stock market’s 1999-2000 crash and the dismal stock market performance of the 2001-2010 decade. When you say, “These people eventually received 5 times what their social security compatriots received” you are just not factually correct. You’re wrong. Read the report. If the Galveston plan experiment, or if the self-managed plan in the State University Retirement Plan (which I’m a part of, and is very much like the plan you are suggesting) worked so well, I’d be supporting the privatization of Social Security as you are. But these plans do not work well, when compared to Social Security. Please, read the report, or talk to people who have been part of the plans where people can opt out of Social Security (as I am). See if after checking these facts you still think this is a better way.
Why warn me that if I’m not a good liberal my liberal friends will turn on me? I’m sure most people have (as I do) friends all across the political spectrum. And I think that most people will reach the sort of conclusion I have about political beliefs and personal character, that there isn’t any correlation. I don’t see liberals or conservatives as being better friends or more honest people or more decent than each other. I’m not aware of any recent research on this, but long ago Gordon Allport (I think it was) did study the “F factor” in personality, which was a tendency toward rigid (fascist) thinking, that he did find concentrated in people who were at the time very conservative and very racist (these were mostly Democrats from the South, as this was back in the 1940s or 1950s I think). Maybe we could update that study and use better techniques and figure out if there is any moral superiority to people who tend to be conservatives or liberals. I would be shocked if we found anything like that—any indication that friends of one political persuasion or the other were better or worse then their ideological opponents.
What’s with this sarcastic stuff about “capitalist pigs”? That’s a real bummer, having a swell guy like you using terms that aren’t groovy any more.
We disagree on so many of the facts about Denmark that it is exhausting to contemplate investigating to confirm that all your facts are wrong. Could you please post a link to something that supports any of the points you make about Denmark’s economy?
Calling our president by the sarcastic acronym you use is, I think, disrespectful of the office he occupies. I didn’t like it when, after he actually won the presidential election in 2004, liberals called President Bush by derogatory nicknames or offensive epithets (even though I think there is a plausible case to be made that he is guilty of war crimes). I am just as offended with Obama’s political foes use the sort of terms you use to describe him.
You write about people receiving welfare: If the physically able had to support themselves most would rise to the occasion.”. You are absolutely correct. They would, and they do. People who stay on welfare for the long-term are not physically (or mentally) able to get off welfare and stay off it. Either their bodies or their brains do not work well enough for them to find an employer who can profit from their labor, or they are unable to start their own businesses and thrive. Most persons who use welfare are able-bodied, and use welfare for a transitional period during their lives. That would include most Americans. Most of us use welfare at some point in our lives. For example, a great number of us use Medicaid when we are born. Most of us use the Earned Income Tax Credit when we first start out on our careers and our salaries are low. Many of us use TANF for months or a year or two when we go through a divorce and become single. You write that some people who receive welfare are lazy. Yes, some of them are. So what? How many of them are lazy? How many of them are just working the system? It’s not a large percentage. It’s quite a small percentage, certainly single-digit, perhaps 1% or 2%. That’s still hundreds of thousands of people, given that tens of millions of Americans gain some benefit from SNAP or TANF or SSI or Medicaid or the EITC or Affordable Housing Vouchers or Public Housing or School Lunches, etc.
You write about property rights. I believe in property rights. They are very important. However, they are not absolute. We only have property because we live in societies that recognize property and set up rules to protect private property. In order to live in such a society where we are protected from theft and the sort of life Hobbes described as “nasty, brutish, and short” we must recognize that we owe some portion of our lives or property to sustaining the society that allows us to thrive. If Americans vote for themselves a government that confiscates 50% of income from the richest quarter of the population, then anyone who wants to live in the American republic and participate in the society that spends this tax money on roads, schools, police, the military, science, education, health care, welfare, support for persons with disabilities, and so forth is free to do so, but they will have to pay their taxes and obey the laws. They are free to try to convince their fellow citizens to vote themselves a government that will set the tax rates down to 20%, and if that happens, then the people will live with whatever society can be sustained with taxes at that level. If taxes are too high in the United States and someone despairs of ever seeing the American electorate vote for itself a government with significantly lower taxes, they can evaluate the costs of abandoning America and moving to a society with lower taxes on the wealthy. Likewise, if America ever has a system with very low taxes and most of what we now consider to be “public services” are delivered through private companies, those who prefer higher taxes and more public services will be free to go and live in a society where taxes are higher and services are private.
This is one reason I’m not worried about a tipping point where we tax ourselves too highly and the government takes over everything. Long, long before we reach the situation where the government has become so large that we can no longer change things or criticize the system, there will be economic slow-downs and an exodus of creative and hard-working people, and the response to this will be to swing back toward a smaller government, lower taxes, and a more vibrant private sector of the economy. I think we could double the federal income tax actually paid by the wealthy (so that the wealthy were paying about 44% or 45% of their income as federal income taxes) and we still wouldn’t even see any economic slow down or mass exodus of talented, hard-working people. You seem to think we’re already there. This is an empirical question. We can look and see what happens, or what has happened. I’m unaware of any time in American history when we lost masses of talented people because taxes were too high and the government was too large, nor can I think of a time when economic growth was significantly reduced by high taxes and a swelling public sector. So, I think we could go back to any of the several historically higher tax rates we’ve had in the past without any problem. What evidence do you have that contradicts this, that suggests that any increases in taxes and the size of the public sector will put us dangerously near the point of losing economic vitality, chasing away investment, forcing talented and hard-working Americans to flee to low-tax havens in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore?
You mentioned that a Democratic strategist admitted that some welfare programs had fostered dependency among a segment of the population. This is not news. In 1996 when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was passed, many Democrats supported it, and the President (A Democrat, Clinton) signed it into law. See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/22/opinion/22clinton.html. Not all Democrats or liberals agree that it is accurate to emphasize the role of welfare in creating dependency among a segment of the poor, but there is no monolithic group of like-minded liberals or Democrats who agree about everything. There is nothing wrong with saying that some policies have problems with them, or have had problems with them, and then saying that despite the problems, those policies should be supported, or claiming that similar policies have been improved so that the problems have been eliminated.
I believe most radical liberals want power. Again, look at those people surrounding BIBTAFSSO. The union bosses give speeches about power and talk about the persuasion of power.
The concept of power and the use of power in analysis of social dynamics is a standard part of social science and community organizing. I teach my students in macro practice classes who to analyze who has power in a community, and how to use power to get things done. Power and money are just ways that we get things done in human society. If you have some idea about how this society would be better, and you want to see your brilliant idea tried out, you’ll need to collect power and mobilize it in order to get investors or politicians to help you put your idea into practice.
They shut down a democratically elected government in Wisconsin for weeks.
Yes, that is called protest. It’s also perhaps called obstructionism. It’s a very old tradition in democratic societies that have free speech. Both dominant political parties use such techniques. So what? I hope you don’t agree with the Republican deputy attorney general (Jeffrey Cox) who wrote, “you’re darned right I advocate deadly force” when asked about how to handle the protests in Wisconsin. I don’t think we Americans should be looking to governments in Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, or China to get ideas for how to handle protesters.
They don’t believe in the original American ideals but instead in those principles that thousands of Americans have died fighting against.
Generalizations like this move beyond the level of rational discourse. The proposition that liberals do not believe in the original American ideals is nonsense. Such rhetoric is empty of substance or logic, and is emotionally inflammatory. To say that thousands of Americans have died fighting against principles, and then say that someone you disagree with is supporting those principles against which Americans died fighting, is a nasty and thuggish rhetorical device when it is not true.
Americans have died fighting to: 1) Preserve their liberty from illegal actions and tyranny committed by the British Crown and Parliament. 2) Protect the nation from invasion. 3) Protect Americans from being captured and held in slavery or indentured servitude or held for ransom. 4) Protect democracy itself and the viability of the nation when slave-owning wealthy elites sought to destroy the republic through rebellion when their property rights to own human beings were threatened. 5) Preserve the union. 6) Ensure that government by the people, for the people, and of the people should not perish from the Earth. 7) Help give birth to a new freedom by ending slavery in the country. 8) rescue colonized people from the cruel hand of imperialist masters. 9) fight against governments that waged war on neutral shipping and killed civilians in this war. 10) destroy an imperialist power that had attacked us. 11) destroy a government that advocated an ideology of racial superiority and a right to conquer and enslave other peoples in order to expand its borders and civilization. 12) protect people from Stalinist/Maoist/North Korean/Vietnamese totalitarian regimes loosely based on Marxist-Leninist ideologies (not just in Korea and Vietnam). 13) protect people in countries we occupied from insurgencies and terrorist groups seeking to force our withdrawal and impose their governance on an unwilling population. 14) destroy forces that had directly attacked us through terrorism or supported the forces that had attacked us. 15) settle a boundary dispute with a government in Mexico headed by an anti-democratic dictator in such a way that we would be able to expand our territory and diminish the territory controlled by this dictator and his government and the Mexican nation. 16) force nations that invaded other countries to withdraw and restore sovereignty to the occupied nation, in cooperation with the United Nations.
Liberals are not advocating any of these 16 things that Americans died fighting for or against. To suggest that persons who want to see taxes raised are advocating for systems that are similar to those totalitarian systems that operated in Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, North Korea, North Vietnam, Baathist Iraq, or Taliban Afghanistan is just a way of telling people that you are not interested in serious debate. You are instead interested in name-calling and taunting.
I’ll add that Americans have died for many other things that are quite ugly and horrible, including the genocide of American Indians and theft of their lands, the profitability and secure property rights of American-based multinational companies that wanted to dominate economies and governments in the Caribbean and Latin America, the desire of American companies and their political allies to profit from war and access to oil fields in foreign lands, and the oppression of people who wanted freedom and independence for their nations (as in the Philippine War of Independence against the United States). Sadly, these embarrassing reasons have sometimes been mixed in with the noble reasons I’ve listed above.